Since last week, I've resumed my tryst with the culinary arts.
I am, have and will always be a food fanatic. A complete foodie at heart, I love all kinds of cuisines that dish out vegetarian plates and consume all my senses alike. My dad is a connoisseur of food, my mom is an excellent cook and my sister R - a combination of both and therefore my favorite chef. We have a 8 yr difference in our ages and she was pretty much a surrogate mom for me. (scolding me more than my mom ever did... but pampering me just as much :) ) I think R started experimenting in the kitchen after she finished school and entered junior college that gave her ample time to spend mastering the splendid and lifesaving art of cooking. Moreover, it was around this time that we experience a Cable TV invasion into our lives and on Sunday 12:00 noons we succumbed to the charms of the ever-smiling Sanjeev Kapoor. Scribbling notes in her book, my sister would pay close attention to his instructions and revise it with a recap of the recipe.
Undaunted by the levels of difficulty of his recipes, R set about to treat our taste buds to exotic and exotically-prepared simple dishes. Of course, when she decided to venture on her own, I was a ready guinea pig - Always! One of my all time favorites is the Masala Papad that she used to make - I remember being in awe of her just because of that dish which consists of garnishing fried papad with tomatoes, onions, red chilli powder, salt and a whole lot of coriander. Though now I realize that it is so simple to make, yet I relish the memories of her cooking even today.
So my point being, with R and my mom around treating me to yummy food all the time, I never really had to set foot into the kitchen. And to make things worse, medical school hardly gave me time to breathe. So till I was 24, I had never cooked - I don't consider making Maggi, coffee and toasting bread as cooking.
Finally when it was time to leave home, I realized that I couldn't survive without good food. So I donned my kitchen apron and entered the kitchen amidst much fanfare (with my mom and dad excitedly watching over my initial attempts). I think I first learnt to keep rice in the cooker, then make tea, make dal and finally bhindi (okra/lady's fingers) and beans (something that I am not to fond of, but since it was really simple it became one of my favorites). Spurred by the success stories, I decided to attempt more complex procedures like making "sheera" and a yummy rice dish called Baoli Handi.
But things happened over the last one year that broke my momentum in the cooking spree. So now, after exactly a year, I entered the kitchen again - this time with more enthusiasm and energy than before. I started with the seemingly ostentatious but absolutely simple "Baoli Handi". It's a Sanjeev Kapoor recipe that my mom recommended last year - combines rice, moong dal (split green gram), soya chunks and a whole lot of vegetables. It is extremely nutritious (when you cook rice with dal in the same dish - it completes the amino acid profile of the dal), spares the need for preparing a side-dish (can easily have it with simple plain dahi) and most of all makes for a sumptuous meal. Maybe the next time I make it, I'll post the recipe along with a picture of the dish (inspired by my sister).
Needless to say, the dish was a hit with everyone at home! Universal unanimous affirmative praise - including my patti (grandmom) who prefers sattvic food - without potatoes, onion and garlic. This was nearly sattvic - it did have lots of aloo (potato) in it.
Encouraged by this reaction, I decided to don the chef's invisible cap and took over the reins of my mother's kitchen. I've been cooking both meals for the last 4 days now and I can proudly say that I'm lovin it! I think I've discovered a new hobby in cooking. I love to cut and chop vegetables, I love the spluttering and crackling of mustard and jeera (cumin seeds), I love to sprinkle red chilli powder and yellow turmeric to give it rich colour, I love the aroma imparted by the addition of dhania-jeera powder and the tangy taste of aamchur powder and finally I absolutely love the green garnish of a sprig of coriander leaves.
I always resisted kitchen chores, especially the actual task of standing in the sauna-like kitchen and stirring the dal to completion. Subconsciously, I also think, I was scared of not living up to the high standards set my mom and sis. And peeking even deeper into the subconscious, I mistook 'refusing to cook' as a sign of female emancipation! (I know it sounds ridiculous, but I think I have to admit it - at the same time, I also feel that cooking is a science that both men and women should learn for their own good).
Today, I am grateful to myself that I decided to take the ladle and spoon in my hand and learn to create edible magic from a few raw foods. I honestly feel like a magician when I finish cooking and my dad comes with a bear hug and wishes wistfully that he could dress me up in diamonds. (Of course, my dad is known to exaggerate when it especially comes to his younger daughter; I single myself out because my sister is absolutely brilliant when it comes to serving us a meal fit for kings on a steel platter).
Cooking is not just about enabling us to survive. It indulges the senses, teaches us proportions and gives us an important life lesson - to learn to strike the right balance in life so that we can enjoy every morsel and every minute with equal relish.